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Holding a shadow

Debating the merits — or shortcomings, depending on which camp you’re in — of all-glass buildings isn’t new. But there seems to be a bit of a resurgence happening right now because of the recent opening of Hudson Yards in New York.

There’s an important environmental consideration here: Glass is, as a rule, a poor insulator. But often the other concern with all-glass buildings is their sameness. Witold Rybczynski recently wrote about this on his blog in a post called The Transparency Trap:

Le Corbusier described (modernist) architecture as “the masterly, correct and magnificent play of volumes brought together in light.” Corbusier used glass but he never designed all-glass buildings. Neither did Mies; he added superfluous I-beams to his facades (which also had substantial spandrels). The problem with transparent glass is that it doesn’t hold a shadow, and without a shadow there can be no “play of volumes.” Since minimalist modernist architecture doesn’t offer decoration or ornament, that doesn’t leave much to look at.

Witold isn’t usually appreciative of that which is new and I often find myself disagreeing with this critiques. But I like his metaphor of “holding a shadow.” Light and shadow are, of course, fundamental to architecture.

Photo by LinedPhoto on Unsplash

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